Doing qualitative case study research: a review of the literature and some methodological suggestions
Sociology and Social Research University of Trento Trento, Italy
In the last years have been produced an increasing number of pubblications on case studies research. Many well-known case study researchers have written about this topic and suggested techniques for organizing and conducting the research successfully. However, this crowds of books and papers propose different understandings and sometimes produce a jumble in this field.
Case study research, in fact, appears to be particulary suitable in understanding complex issues and can extend knowledge to what is already known through previous research. Moreover, this methodological approach emphasizes detailed contextual analysis of a limited number of events or conditions and their relationships. For this reason, researchers have used it across a variety of disciplines. Social scientists, in particular, have made wide use of qualitative case study research method to investigate a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context.
The main critics to this method is that the study of a small number of cases can offer no grounds for establishing generality of findings and dismiss case study research as useful only as an exploratory tool. However, others feel that the intense exposure to study of the case allows to better analyse a variety of real-life situations, issues, and problems.
The aim of this paper is twofold: on the one hand, it is to summarize the main topics in a review of the literature on case studies, looking both at methodological and empirical work; on the other hand, the aim is to sum up the different position on this approach and give some methodological suggestions on the basis of the analysis.
The purpose of this critical review is to introduce a specific approach on qualitative case studies, focusing on four main issues: case selection, data collection, data analysis, and results report. Particularly, the paper will deal with the following issues: the logic of case selection in a theoretical sampling perspective; the use of extreme or deviant, critical and paradigmatic cases; different collecting data techniques, proposing a mix of techniques as participant observation, interviews, focus group and document analysis; generalizing and building theories from case studies.